Have you heard the term Polish hostage? Where did this come from? I created this account because for once in my life I could not find the answer to a question by researching it. I am truly curious. I've heard this term more than once. I suppose it might be inter-agency slang by, maybe, police forces or SWAT. So, Have you heard the term Polish hostage?

Definition: Polish Hostage

another term for a person wanting to attempt suicide, usually involving police intervention.
Officer smith had to respond to the high railroad bridge over the river- there was a polish hostage up there threatening to jump.

(this is a copied definition, one of very few sources I found online)

Have you heard the term Polish hostage? Where did this come from? tx

  • One example I've found is this scene from the movie SWAT.
    – alphabet
    Apr 9 at 20:00
  • (My best guess: idiosyncratic LAPD or SWAT team jargon copied by the filmmakers and perhaps popularized by the movie itself.)
    – alphabet
    Apr 9 at 20:08
  • 1
    Are you sure that this isn't simply the derogatory use of "Polish" to refer to someone who isn't very bright? A dim-witted hostage could get himself or herself shot by police. Apr 9 at 20:36
  • 1
    Not sure we want to help explain a slur—labeling suiciders who hold themselves 'hostage' as Polish. See Chinese fire drill and Indian giver. Apr 9 at 20:39

2 Answers 2


I suspect that this indeed originated as a piece of police jargon; this scene from the movie SWAT provides an example, and that movie may have further popularized the term.

As MarcInManhattan noted, Polish people have long been negatively stereotyped as idiotic or foolish by Americans. Unfortunately, this prejudice very much survives in the form of "Polish jokes" about their alleged lack of intelligence.

So why the term "Polish hostage" for such people? The implication is likely that such "hostages" are "Polish" because their strategy is incredibly stupid, insofar as their only "hostage" is someone the police would have little desire to save.

  • Yes, and the hostage in the film clip and the menacing character are one and the same. He holds himself hostage, threatening to kill himself. Apr 9 at 21:54
  • Are Polish jokes still a thing? They were popular when I was young, but I haven't heard the old "Polish Navy" jokes in decades. But I wouldn't be survived if they've left a legacy of slang like that.
    – Barmar
    Apr 9 at 22:29
  • @Barmar They are dying out, but they seem to have long outlasted similar jokes about other races and ethnicities.
    – alphabet
    Apr 9 at 23:09

Just an unconfirmed hypothesis for the origin of "polish hostage" :
It may come from what happened in Warsaw ghetto during WW2.

The ghetto fighters and the civilian population who supported them held the Germans at bay for nearly a month. On May 8, 1943, German forces succeeded in seizing ŻOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa: jewish fighters organization) headquarters at 18 Mila Street. Anielewicz and many of his staff commanders are thought to have committed suicide in order to avoid capture.

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